More is less: Learning but not relaxing buffers deviance under job stressors

By: Dave M. Mayer, , Eun Bit Hwang

Zhang, C., Mayer, D. M., & Hwang, E. (2018). More is less: Learning but not relaxing buffers deviance under job stressors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103:123-136. Doi:


Workplace deviance harms the well-being of an organization and its members. Unfortunately, theory and prior research suggest that deviance is associated with job stressors, which are endemic to work organizations and often cannot be easily eliminated. To address this conundrum, we explore actions individuals can take at work that serve as buffering conditions for the positive relationship between job stressors and deviant behavior. Drawing upon conservation of resources theory, we examine a resource-building activity (i.e., learning something new at work) and a demand-shielding activity (i.e., taking time for relaxation at work) as potential boundary conditions. In 2 studies with employee samples using complementary designs, we find support for the buffering role of learning but not for relaxation. When employees learn new things at work, the relationship between hindrance stressors and deviance is weaker; as is the indirect relationship mediated by negative emotions. Taking time for relaxation at work did not show a moderating role in either study. Therefore, although relaxation is a response that individuals might be inclined to turn to for counteracting work stress, our findings suggest that, when it comes to addressing negative emotions and deviance in stressful work environments, building positive resources by learning something new at work could be more useful. In that way, doing more (i.e., learning, and not relaxing) is associated with less (deviance) in the face of job stressors. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)